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A Mind That Found Itself: An Autobiography

Creator: Clifford Whittingham Beers (author)
Date: 1910
Publisher: Longmans, Green, and Co., New York
Source: Available at selected libraries

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At what cost had I signed that commitment slip? To me it was the act of signing my own death-warrant. And why should one in my irresponsible condition have been forced to undergo so heart-breaking an ordeal? If I was a mental incompetent -- and I was -- why go through a senseless formality, meaningless in the eyes of the law which declares an insane person incapable of intelligent and binding action? Under such conditions a patient should not be annoyed, and in some instances tortured, by being compelled to attend to the details of his own commitment. As well ask the condemned to adjust the noose. I am not opposed to "voluntary commitments." I simply plead for their confinement to cases in which the patient sufficiently appreciates his condition to be able to make a choice. If he be past that condition let the law authorize some relative or friend to look after his commitment and, together with competent doctors, assume the entire responsibility for depriving him of his liberty. Though I have ventured one suggestion regarding commitments, I shall not at this time presume to attack the problem involved. Its solution can come only after the ablest members of the medical and legal professions have given it the consideration it deserves.


During the entire time that my delusions of persecution, as they are called, persisted, I could not but respect the mind which had laid out so comprehensive and devilishly ingenious and, at times, artistic a "Third Degree," as I was called upon to bear. And an innate modesty (more or less fugitive since these peculiar experiences) does not forbid my mentioning the fact that I still respect that mind.


Suffering, such as I endured during the month of August in my own home, continued with gradually lessening force during the eight months I remained in this sanatorium. Nevertheless my suffering during the first four of these eight months was intense. All my senses were still perverted. My sense of sight was the first to right itself -- nearly enough, at least, to rob the detectives of their moving pictures. But, before the last fitful film had run through my mind, I beheld one which I shall now describe. I can trace it directly to an impression made on my memory about two years earlier, when I was still sane.


Shortly after going to New York to live I had explored the Eden Musée. One of the most grewsome of the spectacles which I had seen in its famed Chamber of Horrors was a representation of a gorilla, holding in its arms the gory body of a woman. It was that impression which now revived my mind. But, by a process strictly in accordance with Darwin's theory, the Eden Musée gorilla had become a man -- in appearance, not unlike the beast that had inspired my distorted thought. This man held a bloody dagger which he repeatedly plunged into the woman's breast. The apparition did not terrify me at all. In fact I found it interesting, for I looked upon it as a contrivance of the detectives. Its purpose I could not imagine, and it distressed me the less as I reasoned that no additional criminal charges could make my situation worse than it already was.


For a month or two, "false voices" continued to annoy me. And if there is a hell conducted on the principles of my temporary hell, gossipers will one day wish they had attended strictly to their own business. This is not a confession. I am no gossiper, though I cannot deny that I have occasionally gossiped -- a little. And this was my punishment: persons in an adjoining room seemed to be repeating with reference to me the very same things which I had said of others on these communicative occasions. I supposed that those whom I had talked about had in some way found me out, and intended now to take their revenge. If all makers of idle talk could be put through such a corrective course, idle talkers would be abolished from the earth.


My sense of smell, too, became normal; but my sense of taste was slow in recovering. At each meal, poison was still the pièce de résistance, and it was not surprising that I sometimes dallied one, two, or three hours over a meal, and often ended by not eating it at all.


There was, however, another reason for my frequent refusal to take food, in my belief that the detectives had resorted to a more subtle method of detection. They now intended by each article of food to suggest a certain idea, I was expected to recognize the idea thus suggested.


Conviction or acquittal depended upon my correct interpretation of their symbols, and my interpretation was to be signified by my eating, or not eating, the several kinds of food placed before me. To have eaten a burnt crust of bread would have been a confession of arson. Why? Simply because the charred crust suggested fire; and, as bread is the staff of life, would it not be an inevitable deduction that life had been destroyed -- destroyed by fire -- and that I was the destroyer? On one day to eat a given article of food meant confession. The next day, or the next meal, a refusal to eat it meant confession. This complication of logic made it doubly difficult for me to keep from incriminating myself and others.

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